Lake Maggiore – Stresa

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Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore Photo © Roberto Romano

Stresa and Borromee Islands, a boat trip

This boat itinerary covers the Central part of Lake Maggiore, with its Borromean Islands.

This itinerary is specially recommended in spring or autumn, when often you can leave the fog and cold of Milan to reach sun-shining lakefront wiews in the mild climate of the Lake Maggiore.

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Isola Bella
Isola Bella – Photo Hagens

Borromee Islands, Isola Bella & Isola Superiore

The first stop is at the Isola Bella (Beautiful Island), right opposite the beach of Stresa and 400 far meters from the coast. It is the most famous of the three islands that make up the archipelago; the Count Borromeo III had a mansion built and grandiose garden for his wife Isabella (from whom the name of the Island, that shortened to “Isola Bella”), one of the most beautiful examples of 17th century gardens.

Numerous artists worked here – from Angelo Crivelli to Vismara, to the celebrated Richini and Fontana – transforming the island into a sort of incredible flowered vessel, a truncated pyramid of ten superimposed terraces, joined together by tiny flights of steps, courtyards, caves, baths, fountains and waterworks, green back-drops and rare plants, that culminate into a large hemicycle called the “Theatre”.

The Palazzo is an imposing massive structure with a central body of four floors and three lateral bodies where you find the suggestive subterranean salons “in grottoes”.

It houses a picture-gallery with the works of Gianbattista Tiepolo, Luca Giordano, Francesco Zuccarelli, a noteworthy gallery of Flemish tapestries from the 18th cent. and antique decors. The Palazzo and the gardens are open to the public from March 27th to October 24th, from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 13.30 to 17.20.

From Isola Bella, going northwest we reach the Isola Superiore (Superior Island), about 300 meters long and 100 wide, which hosts, taking its name, an ancient and picturesque fishermen’s village, of tiny winding, narrow streets. To be seen the Parrocchiale di San Vittore, of probable Romanesque origins, which to the visitor today appears in the restructured style of 1627.

the Palace
the Palace

Borromean Islands, Isola Madre

From Baveno the boat departs once again for the last Island of the Borromeo archipelago, the Isola Madre (Mother Island), the largest, green and fragrant, which Flaubert defined “a terrestrial paradise”. 330 meters long and 220 wide, it is still the property of the Borromeos as is the Isola Bella, and it is without doubt the most interesting from a landscape and botanical point of view.

Originally called Island of San Vittore, then Renata in honor of the Count Borromeo that transformed it, and, from the 17th cent., with the present name, hosts the villa and the garden begun by Lancillotto Borromeo in the early 16th century. The park, called Botanical Garden (with beautiful views on to the lake), is dived into five sectors where they alternate and come one after the other: gardens, pergolas, groves, drives, baths, with splendid and rare examples of birds and fowls roaming freely. The villa’s interior hosts restorations of epoch milieu and a collection of chinaware and livery.

Baveno Cloister - Photo © mauroman
Baveno Cloister – Photo © mauroman


In a few minutes the boat turns to berth on to the coat, to Baveno. The little town, of ancient origin documented since the beginning of the 11th century, is one of the major tourist spots of the lake. Among its monuments two important structures: the Parrocchiale of St. Gervasio and St. Protaso of the 12th-13th centuries, adapted in the 7th-8th century, with Romanesque bell and the octagonal baptistery, this too restored in the 18th-19th cent.

With an elegant appearance, with a pleasant garden lake-front from which you enjoy an enchanting view onto the Borromeo Gulf and over the Lombardy lake shore up to the Laveno inlet, the little town boasts many illustrious guests.

From Byron to Lamartine, from the Czarist Alexandra to Queen Victoria of England, from Wagner to Umberto Giordano – who composed the opera Fedora in the namesake villa – and to finish Churchill who is portrayed in some Parrocchiale watercolors. Baveno is what’s more famous for the red granite cave, it opens onto the foothills of Mt. Camoscio (890 meters) at the back of the town, from which also rise the mineral water springs called “Fonti di Baveno”.

In Baveno you have a Trenitalia train stop, if you want to end your trip back without going all the way back to Stresa by boat.

Where to stay in Stresa

There are hotels, apartments, villas and B&Bs available, check it out and make a reservation here.

Where to stay in Baveno

There are hotels, apartments, villas and B&Bs available, check it out and make a reservation here.